Britain and the US Must Stop Fueling the Bloody Saudi War on Yemen
It's just possible the tide may be turning.
The end of this week marks three tragedy-filled years for the people of Yemen, who have suffered from the Saudi-led military coalition's devastating - and often indiscriminate - bombing of their country. Fleets of fighter jets, the bulk from Saudi Arabia itself, have wreaked havoc on an impoverished country, with thousands of airstrikes on targets including hospitals, markets, homes, factories and funeral halls.
Thousands of civilians have been killed, thousands more horribly injured. Collapsed infrastructure, coupled with a partial blockade, have deprived most of the population of clean water and proper healthcare, unleashing the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.
Despite all this, western countries, led by the US and the UK, have supplied the Saudi-led coalition with huge amounts of advanced military equipment, facilitating a military campaign characterized by repeated violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes.
This conflict has revealed in the starkest possible terms the real cost of the lucrative global arms trade, not to mention the challenge of implementing the UN arms trade treaty. Beyond the US and the UK, many other countries - including France, Spain and Italy - profess their support for human rights and adherence to the treaty while similarly lavishing hi-tech weaponry on the Saudi coalition.
However, on this grim anniversary for Yemen there are glimmers of hope. Across the world vocal criticism from campaigners, journalists and, crucially, some politicians has begun to bear fruit. In recent months, under growing public pressure, a host of European countries have suspended arms transfers to the Saudi coalition. In other countries where arms exports have continued, they are coming under intense scrutiny, with court challenges and growing criticism from parliamentarians and the wider public.
It's just possible the tide may be turning.
In Greece, there was a storm of protest in December when news emerged of a deal to send 300,000 tank shells to Saudi Arabia. Amid mounting pressure, led by Amnesty Greece, a parliamentary committee broke with precedent and cancelled the deal.
In Finland, when images surfaced in January of the United Arab Emirates, a key Saudi coalition member, using a Finnish-made Patria armored vehicle for combat operations in Yemen, there was public uproar. News that Finland had granted a license for spare Patria parts prompted most candidates in the recent Finnish elections - including the president - to speak out about arming the UAE. Norway announced in the same month that it was suspending exports of lethal military goods to the UAE [it had already stopped supplying Saudi Arabia], citing the risk of misuse in Yemen. Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium's Flemish region have repeatedly denied licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The really big news, though, was the decision by Germany's incoming coalition to suspend future licenses for arms transfers to countries directly engaged in the Yemen conflict. After years of concerted pressure from civil society, journalists and some key politicians, one of the world's major arms manufacturers has finally drawn the line. It remains to be seen how robust this stance will be - in the past arms suspensions have often been short-lived and reversed when the pressure abates - and, crucially, goods under current deals will still be shipped. But it's another sign that opponents of these reckless arms sales are beginning to gain traction.
Meanwhile, pressure is growing elsewhere as well.
In the UK, public opinion and all opposition parties support an end to arming Saudi Arabia. Much of the outcry over Mohammed bin Salman's recent visit to London focused on this. Dismayed at the government's unwillingness to halt its vast arms sales to Saudi Arabia, campaigners took the UK to court, arguing that the government breached its own - and international - laws. It is disappointing that their case was lost [the government won on the grounds that its licensing decisions were "rational" given the evidence being assessed, notwithstanding that much of it had been provided by the Saudis themselves], but efforts are under way to appeal.
In the US, impassioned speeches in the Senate accompanied a vote last June to block the transfer of $510m of precision-guided munitions and related services to Riyadh. The vote was lost by an unprecedentedly narrow margin of 47-53. Meanwhile, a new Senate resolution invoking the 1973 War Powers Act seeks to remove US logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led coalition's Yemen campaign on the basis that it amounts to US involvement in a war never authorized by Congress.
And in Canada, France, Italy and Spain we are seeing a flurry of challenges to arms supplies to the coalition - including court cases, activism and intense public debate.
A growing legal and moral quandary now faces European supplier countries that still pour weapons into the bloody conflict. Under the UN arms trade treaty, they have an obligation to halt the supply of weapons if these are likely to be used for serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law. The US, as a signatory, has pledged not to undermine the treaty's object and purpose, which includes "reducing human suffering" - a commitment mocked by the current desperate situation on the ground in Yemen.
As Yemen enters another grueling year of hunger, disease and war, with more than 20 million of its people now in need of humanitarian aid, the moral and legal bankruptcy of western support for the Saudi-led coalition has never been clearer.
A growing number of countries have recognized the risk of ever-greater complicity in the mounting violations and likely war crimes being committed in Yemen. It's time for the Saudi coalition's remaining arms suppliers to follow suit and end their Faustian pact over weapons and Yemen.